Santa Clara University


The Big Q

A dialogue on the big questions college students face. Like The Big Q now on Facebook to stay updated on the latest post and winners.

  •  Get Me Out of This!

    Tuesday, May. 31, 2011

    $50 Amazon gift certificate to the best student response on this case received by midnight, June 5.

    Since he was a little boy, Sam has always been able to count on his father. When Sam was in grade school, his dad went to bat for him if a teacher didn't treat him fairly. In high school, Sam appreciated when his father made sure he got plenty of playing time on the basketball team, and he learned more from his father than from the English teacher when his dad helped him with assignments.

    Now, at the end of his freshman year of college, Sam has a real problem. His psychology professor has found a couple of lines in the final paper he just turned in that were copied directly from an article in a professional journal. Sam does not dispute that the lines were from the journal, which he included in his bibliography, but he explains to the teacher that he simply forgot to put quotations around them and cite them in this one instance. The teacher is not impressed by his explanation, and has given him a failing grade on this very important assignment.

    Sam calls his dad to complain about the situation, and his father is indignant that the professor is being so "rigid." He offers to call the department chair and protest Sam's grade. Should Sam involve his father in this matter?

    Here are some resources that may be helpful:

    Here are some resources that may help:

    Helicopter Parents (The Tufts Daily)

    A Framework for Ethical Decision Making



  •  A Job Search Dilemma

    Monday, May. 23, 2011
    Job fair, University of Illinois

    Best student response of the week wins a $50 Amazon gift certificate.

    Eric, a second-semester senior, is looking for a job. Anxious about finding work in the worst economy in decades, he sends out scores of resumes for a wide variety of positions. The first call he gets is for a position that doesn't really interest him, but he figures he should be open to every opportunity. He schedules an interview, which he aces. In fact, the recruiter offers Eric the job on the spot. He would like Eric to start as soon as possible.

    Should Eric accept the offer? If he does, can he continue to pursue other jobs actively?

    Here are some resources that may help:

    First Offer Not Your First Choice?

    Job Search Ethics (UC-Berkeley)

    A Framework for Ethical Decision Making


    Photo by Jeremy Wilburn available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

  •  Date My Professor?

    Monday, May. 16, 2011

    Best student response this week wins a $50 Amazon gift card.

    It all started when Frannie, a 19-year-old sophomore, went to work as a student assistant in the English Department. She had gotten a recommendation for the job from Bill Marsden, who had been her professor in the survey of British literature she took last quarter. The class had been so lively and engaging that Frannie was thinking of declaring English as a major.

    After she started working for the department, Professor Marsden always stopped at the reception desk and spent some time chatting with her. As they got to know each other better, it seemed natural that Marsden asked her questions like whether she had big plans for the weekend or whether she had a boyfriend waiting for her back in her hometown. But then she began to notice other signals that maybe he was interested in more than the usual professor-student relationship. He would put his hand over hers for a moment while they talked, and he brought her a collection of the love letters from Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning.

    Frannie was actually quite flattered by his attention. True, he was probably well into his thirties, but he was still cute, and he was a lot more mature and interesting than the boys she met on campus, whose idea of a good time was beer pong. Frannie was pretty sure Marsden would ask her out if she gave the right signals back. Should she get involved with someone on the faculty?

    Here are some resources that may help:

    Dating Your Professor: Problems to Consider Before You Date Your Instructor

    Yes, Professor?

    A Framework for Ethical Decision Making



  •  I Can't Get a C

    Monday, May. 9, 2011

    Tell us what you think.  Best student response wins a $50 Amazon gift certificate.

    Melissa is a pre-med student at a large university. She prefers taking classes that relate directly to her emphasis. However, Melissa knows that she has to take general education requirements to graduate. She decides to take "An Introduction to Art History," an easy class, to balance out the hard science classes she must take this quarter.

    It turns out that Art History has weekly homework assignments--nothing difficult, but Melissa never seems to have time to do them. She reasons that she shouldn't waste her energy on class content that she will never use. Still, the teacher does grade the homework and Melissa cannot afford do poorly in the class because medical schools will care about her GPA. She ends up copying a classmate's homework on a weekly basis. Does Melissa really need to spend time on this gen-ed when she has more important classes to worry about?

    Here are some resources that may help:

    Cheating in Academic Institutions: A Decade of Research

    Fundamental Values Project--Center for Academic Integrity

    A Framework for Ethical Decision Making



    Photo by Dany Sakugawa available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

  •  Group Project

    Monday, May. 2, 2011

    Kyle, Mia, Raymond, and Jasmine have been friends since they started college as communication majors three years ago. This semester, they're all taking the quantitative research methods class, which requires a group project instead of a final exam. The four of them decide to work together on the project, which includes designing and carrying out a survey, and writing a report on their findings.

    Problems crop up pretty quickly. Mia is also taking a TV production class at the same time, which is enormously time consuming. She misses the meeting where the group finalizes the wording of the survey and divvies up the responsibilities for administering it. When she learns what her group has assigned her, she tells them right away that there's no way she can complete so many surveys by the deadline because of all the work she has for TV production. Instead, she offers to take on more of the writing when the time comes to do the report.

    Although the others aren't thrilled with this arrangement, they cover part of her assigned surveys so that they can stay on schedule. Mia makes good on her promise to do extra writing for the final report, but she's really pressed for time, and the rest of the team is very unhappy with the quality of her work. Should they hand the report in as is or rewrite it? If they rewrite it, should they tell the professor that Mia did not do her share?

    Best student comment wins a $50 Amazon gift certificate.  Comments must be posted by May 8, 2011, at midnight.

    Here are some resources:

    Group Project Tips for College Students

    Ethics of Team Work

    Framework for Ethical Decision Making


    Photo by hackNY available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

  •  A New Study Buddy

    Monday, Apr. 25, 2011

    It has been a hectic fall quarter. Jack is checking his finals schedule: two exams on Tuesday (back to back) and two on Wednesday. How is he going to possibly do all of this studying? As he sits looking over his notes, Amanda, a classmate sits next to him, and he complains about  the amount of work he's going to have to do.

    She suggests Jack take a pill to help him concentrate and study better: Adderall. He really doesn't know what Adderall is, but Amanda says it will be okay.  She has a prescription (a lot of kids take it for attention deficit disorder to help them focus), and he can trust her. She assures him that many college kids take Adderall and other drugs to help them study during finals week. Does Jack take the pill, believing his classmate and hoping that this will really help? Or does he decide that maybe it's not such a good idea to be taking pills to study especially if it's someone else's prescription?

    Here are some resources that may be helpful:

     Is Using Study Drugs Cheating

    Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy (Nature)

    Adderall (& Other Stimulant) Abuse on Campus

    Framework for Ethical Decision Making


    Photo by hipsxxheart available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.


  •  Not Hungry

    Monday, Apr. 18, 2011

    Jaya has always been thin, but recently she has started to look emaciated. Jaya used to meet her roommate, Naomi, and some of their mutual friends for dinner, but lately, she tells Naomi she is "just going to grab something on the way to the library."

    Also, Jaya works out like a fiend, running twice a day and doing endless crunches. Naomi has heard that this pattern is common in people with the eating disorder anorexia. She has tried to broach the subject with Jaya, but Jaya angrily denied that she had a problem. Last week, though, Jaya passed out after doing her evening sit-ups. She’s also cold all the time, no matter the temperature in the room. Naomi is truly worried.

    What should Naomi do?  Should she talk to someone at the University Health Service?  Should she call Jaya's parents?

    Here are some resources that may be helpful:

    Symptoms of Eating Disorders: Mayo Clinic

    Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders

    A Framework for Thinking Ethically


    Photo by Futurilla available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.


  •  Theme Party

    Monday, Apr. 11, 2011

    Michelle is looking through Facebook after class and notices that her good friend Anthony has a new album uploaded on his profile entitled “FOBs R Us.” Michelle looks through the photos and video clips and sees that both white students and students of color are depicting stereotypes of immigrants from Asia. There are people speaking in fake accents, wearing pointed farmer’s hats and ethnic garb, bowing to each other, posing in mock martial arts positions, and carrying around chopsticks in their pockets.

    Michelle knows that most of the photos were taken at a “Fresh Off the Boat” party Anthony held the weekend before. Michelle was invited but made up an excuse not to go because the whole idea made her uncomfortable. Now that she sees the photos, she’s even more uncomfortable, but she notices that a lot of her friends have “liked” pictures from the album. Is there something wrong with Michelle’s sense of humor, or is there something wrong with the FOBs R Us?

    Here are some resources that might be helpful:

    Racist Theme Parties: Freedom of Speech or Freedom to Hate 

    Discussion of UCSD "Compton Cookout" by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    A Framework for Ethical Decision Making

    Photo by Swamibu available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

  •  Friends With Benefits

    Monday, Apr. 4, 2011

    Seniors Sarah and Ben, who have been good friends since freshman year, became “friends with benefits” after a party a month ago. They just kind of fell into bed with each other. Over time, though, Sarah has started to have romantic feelings for Ben. She continues for a while in their current arrangement, in the hope that Ben will at some point begin to reciprocate her feelings. Eventually, however, as she comes to realize that a long-term relationship doesn’t seem to be in the cards, she tells Ben that she no longer wants sex to be part of their relationship.

    That weekend, they decide to go to a party together. The beer is flowing freely, and both of them get drunk. As the evening wears on, they end up going home together and hooking up. When she wakes up in Ben’s apartment the next morning, Sarah realizes that she and Ben have had sex even though she had told him she didn’t want to do that anymore. She’s furious with Ben, but he reminds her that they both were pretty wasted.

    Who is at fault? Why?

    Best student response to this case wins $50.  Comments must be posted by April 10 at midnight.  Rules

    Here are some resources that may help: 

    Alcohol and Consent (Dalhousie University)

    Hooking Up (Religion and Ethics Weekly)

    Sex and the Soul (video of Donna Freitas)

     Risk Factors and Consequences of Unwanted Sex Among University Students

  •  Poster Wars: An Ethics Perspective

    Friday, Apr. 1, 2011

    Mary puts up a poster on her dorm room door opposing gay marriage. James, a floormate, finds it offensive. What should happen?

    Read the full case

    The other responders to this case have covered several of the ethical issues, especially how to balance the right of free speech with the harm that may come from attacking someone else’s identity.

    Identity has become an increasingly important part of ethics. For a long time, ethics was much more concerned with whether some isolated action was right or wrong, and not as concerned with who was doing the action—with the person’s history, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, core values, context, and all the other things that make us who we really are and that profoundly affect what we do.

    While this new dimension of identity has been a boon for ethics in many ways, there are times when it has stopped ethical reflection dead in its tracks. This happens when identity becomes something unchanging, beyond challenge, unable to be discussed, and easily offended: I am who I am, and you have no right to infringe on my sense of who I am. When I speak, I am asserting who I am in a way that you may not question.

    But identity can’t be locked down, definitely not in life and rightfully not in the swirl of conversation that is college life. We may affirm something constant about who we are, but we have to acknowledge that we are always changing, too. And speech—whether it’s a poster on a dorm room door or a discussion in class—is the great engine of this change. Could the poster on Mary’s door initiate a conversation in the dorm that changes the way that Mary and James see themselves? Perhaps that conversation leads them to change their opinions of Prop 8. Perhaps it leads them to re-affirm those opinions. Perhaps what emerges is an unforeseen, diverse community on a dorm hallway previously inhabited by separate, fixed identities of the too-rigidly assertive and the too-easily offended.

    Who is David DeCosse?

    Agree with David?  Have another perspective?  Leave us your feedback?  Today is the last day for a chance to win $50 for the best comment on Poster Wars.